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Poetry and Medicine
January 12, 2000

Prognosis

Author Affiliations
 

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 2000;283(2):172. doi:10.1001/jama.283.2.172

Under the thinnest layer of skin
—the cancer having deprived him
the luxury of fat—he will be a skeleton,
the sinews and fissures of his skull
more visible each morning.
When he moves his fingers, we will see
the tendons slide across joints.
We will infuse him with chemicals.
We will do this despite the fact
we seldom find this cancer in men his age,
despite the fact our texts predict
a terrible endpoint. The epidemiologists
will call us foolish and wasteful, and they
will be correct. Weeks after his therapy
we will find blasts on his peripheral smear,
the immature blood cells that will verify
our failure. When we tell him this,
he will ask for alternative therapies.
Outside the window, regardless of the season,
I will stare at whatever is stirred by the wind
before looking at his face. Do not let a man
abandon hope, says Saint Luke,
for hope is a step toward salvation.
Just then, the silence will be almost palpable.

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